New Stuff

Book Reviews (by Kim Gentes)

In the past, I would post only book reviews pertinent to worship, music in the local church, or general Christian leadership and discipleship. Recently, I've been studying many more general topics as well, such as history, economics and scientific thought, some of which end up as reviews here as well.

Entries in philosopher (3)

The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization - Arthur Herman (2013)

The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization

I am a student of history, having read much of the main classical Greek and Roman translated history sources. However, my study into the area of philosophy has been tertiary. This book provided not only an architectural outline of the Platonic and Aristotelian philosophical structures but a progressive history of their changes, branches, impacts and major figures on both sides. The book is written with warm and engaging tone while being crisp and insightful in its points.

This is a great book for anyone who wants a thorough history of western philosophy for a layman. It doesn't require college philosophy course training to follow the arguments , ideas or people. It is smartly self-contained and accessible. The best book I have read in the last five years.

The author's primary insight is, itself, a triumph of western thinking- that the world's most proliferated civilization has become so by the dynamism of its two polarities of philosophical inquiry. The tension of that dynamism has become the powerful tool for self-critique and self-correction that is built into the 2500 year-old scaffolding of western thought. This insight alone makes this book not only worthwhile, but essential to virtually everyone interested in their society and participation in it.

The author, Arthur Herman, is scant ever guilty of injecting personal prejudice into the text or it's summary findings. This makes it not only readable, but laudable. 

At just over 700 pages, Herman, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, has presented the book in an affable style while staying solidly bound by scholarship and not making illogical leaps in his conclusions. He also doesn't treat the book like a thesis outline. There is no dissertation style and format here, giving the "tell them what you'll tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them" mindless repetition. Thankfully, the scholar leans this book towards a popular audience and it reads perfectly well for the informed and uninformed reader. 

The breadth of this work, the importance of the topic, the careful attention to detail, the rigorous explanation of change, and the final sterling conclusions it draws make this one of the best books I've ever read.

A brilliant work of international significance.

Amazon Link:


Review by Kim Gentes


How (Not) To Speak of God - Peter Rollins (2006)

The argument is made that naming God is never really naming God but only naming our understanding of God. To take our ideas of the divine and hold them as if they correspond to the reality of God is thus to construct a conceptual idol built from the materials of our mind.[1]

Thus launches a compact and insightful book on the Christian church for the postmodern age.  The book is “How (Not) To Speak of God” and is written by Peter Rollins.  This book is a philosophical building block for what is considered a new brand of Christianity- one that places itself beyond Catholic or Protestant confines as a re-invention of the foundational core Christian tenants of faith on a new trajectory than previous “Christian” classes of belief.  As with all belief centered in logic, foundational comprehension and exploration of such belief begins with language.  Rollins begins and fuels much of his book with the clarifying of language in his “emerging church” conversation.  This is done through visiting constructs such as definitions, re-definitions,  syntax (a/theology, a/theist, mis/understood etc) and even ambiguating subject/predicate grammar (God rid me of God[2]).

The purpose of Rollins use of language in this way is to break ground on traditional use of language against which our faith is eventually handcuffed into suppositions that it cannot adequately make it s way free of. As you can see from one of the opening arguments (top), one of the primary points of his re-imagining what it means to talk about God is to re-think about how conceive about him as an object in a sentence. The noun for God, in Rollins logic, is itself rife with our own thoughts about that noun. We name it and believe it in a circular motion, which continues to define who God is by our use of a label-- thus an undefinable God has become something by use of such a label that we cannot be sure he is.

It is with this kind of linguistic and philosophical approach that How (Not) To Speak of God uses to arrive at several points such as the meaning of what it is to be a Christian, what it is to become one, what belief is, reason and its place in belief, influenced observation (Heisenberg principle), ideology as idolatry, revelation as concealment and more.  He then explores many inversions of current orthodox belief such as a/theistic belief- the concept that our deconstruction of edifices about God (what he calls “unknowing”) actual lead us closer to God by removing what we think of God. He says this well:

This a/theistic approach is deeply deconstructive since it always prevents our ideas from scaling the throne of God. Yet it is important to bear in mind that this deconstruction is not destruction, for the questioning it engages in is not designed to undermine God but to affirm God. This method is similar to that practised by the original cynics who, far from being nihilists and relativists, were deeply moral individuals who questioned the ethical conduct they saw around them precisely because they loved morality so much. This a/theism is thus a deeply religious and faith-filled form of cynical discourse, one which captures how faith operates in an oscillation between understanding and unknowing. This unknowing is to be utterly distinguished from an intellectually lazy ignorance, for it is a type of unknowing which arises not from imprecision but rather from deep reflection and sustained meditation.[3]

All of this redefinition is helpful to allow in the inverted /dark side of thought as things which can become a vital part of faith- dis-belief, doubt, longings, sorrow and hunger.  Rollins hopes that his straightforward, though at times over-done, approach allows a more holistic exploration of broad formation of “theology”. His goal is to bring religion back to the ability to build in a orthodoxy of both knowing God and a tradition of self-critique, saying “To be part of the Christian religion is to simultaneously hold that religion lightly.[4]”

Rollins has a target, however, beyond just language and philosophical theological editing.  He leads the reader to a point of both the need for transformation and the need for a desire for transformation[5].  This is an important primer to creating a fresh man/God vacuum expository (Pascalian God-shaped hole: retold) he sets up the focus of need (hunger) that leads his readers to the primacy of Christianity.  For Rollins, the climax of all thought towards God leads self-critiquing people to the core tenant of love, but even that is re-envisioned:

Thus we can never rest easy, believing that we have discovered the foundations that act as a key for working out what we must do in different situations: for the only clear foundation laid down by Jesus was the law of love.[6]

The remainder of the book deals with practical exploration, including several case studies (examples) of gatherings that Rollins and others have designed to help with post modern expression, in the form of art/drama and concept that allow the attendants to enter imaginatively into this process of deconstruction and opportunity for re-envisioning God not as we see him now, but as we are relearning.


Amazon Product Link:


Review by Kim Gentes


[1]Rollins, Peter. “How (Not) to Speak of God”. Kindle Edition (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press 2006), Location 238

[2]Ibid., Location 265

[3]Ibid., Location 642

[4]Ibid., Location 971

[5]Ibid., Location 1054

[6]Ibid., Location 1333

Pascal's Pensées - Blaise Pascal (1669)

Pensées is a collection of thoughts, from French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal. In many ways Pascal was an early post-modernist thinker, perceiving and challenging (successfully) not only principles in mathematics and physical sciences, but in the philosophical and religious realms as well. The Pensées (which literally means “thoughts”) is not a completed book, but a point-style outline of important thoughts, that read more like proverbs than treatise.  The work was published posthumously and is missing a readable flow from thought to thought.

However, the concepts presented in Pensées are quite clear- they are a philosophical apologetic for the Christian faith. In Section III of the work (titled “the necessity of the wager”) Pascal clarifies his intention to speak directly to a specific group of people:

A letter to incite to the search after God. And then to make people seek Him among the philosophers, sceptics, and dogmatists, who disquiet him who inquires of them.[1]

From this point, Pascal lays out a logical progression of deconstructing arguments against Christianity.  However, Pascal is not saying that logic or reason as the answers to finding God. In fact, his premise is that reason will not be able to lead you through its processes to knowledge of God.  He uses philosophy and reason to counter the notion that reason is a singular tool to concluding God exists- this dichotomoy is not lost on Pascal and he tries to reconcile this by such paradoxical renderings as :

Submission.--We must know where to doubt, where to feel certain, where to submit. He who does not do so, understands not the force of reason.[2]


If we submit everything to reason, our religion will have no mysterious and supernatural element. If we offend the principles of reason, our religion will be absurd and ridiculous.[3]


In the midst of his musing about reason and heart (the contrast of the two), Pascal famously pens the phrase “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.”[4] But he winds that discussion eventually around to a simple, clear and understandable summation: “Heart, instinct, principles.”[5]

He tackles a number of topics including integrity of searching for God to the seriousness of eternity and the scope of human lifespan. At almost every turn, Pascal uses the insights of a scientific mindset (along with its proofing mechanisms) to first examine a topic and then lead you to a conclusion.  This progression is sprinkled generously with several “proverb-like” sentences in which he levels basic human truths in seeming juxtaposition to the more straightforward point-building scheme of proofing his opinions.  Occasionally, he also uses a dialogical counterplay of asking us to imagine things about one position and then asking questions about himself, all the while inferring an obvious point toward the validation of the Christian position as a logical premise. 

But it is the punctual proverbs that surprise most readers, for example:

Instability- it is a horrible thing to feel all that we possess slipping away. 213 Between us and heaven or hell there is only life, which is the frailest thing in the world.[6]

One of the most well known portions of Pensées is an argument that is popularly called “Pascal’s Wager”. This proposal is basically a logical explanation for why it would be unreasonable to not believe in God. Through using his wager, he hopes that intellectual people will consider believing in God to be a proper “wager” to take.

In a summary of proofs on believing in God the author gives yet another dailogical possibility:

Two kinds of persons know Him: those who have a humble heart, and who love lowliness, whatever kind of intellect they may have, high or low; and those who have sufficient understanding to see the truth, whatever opposition they may have to it.[7]

Pascal comes to this point, saying that people may come to God through the mind or the heart, and both are acceptable and not to be shunned.


Amazon Product Link:


Review by Kim Gentes


[1]Blaise Pascal, “Pascal's Pensées ”, (Public Domain Books, Kindle Edition), Pg. 53

[2]Ibid., Pg. 78

[3]Ibid., Pg. 79

[4]Ibid., Pg. 80

[5]Ibid., Pg. 81

[6]Ibid., Pg. 63

[7]Ibid., Pg. 83